Parallel Texts in Matthew, Mark & Luke

Mahlon H. Smith

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This Synoptic Gospels Primer is designed for students in college level courses on the gospels or anyone else interested in the "Synoptic Problem." It was created for undergraduate New Testament courses at Rutgers University (New Brunswick campuses).

A Synoptic Gospels Primer is an electronic gateway for English speakers into the history of  literary analysis of gospels that were originally composed in Greek.  For those who can read or at least decipher some New Testament Greek, this e-textbook includes a sample Greek synopsis based on the Nestle-Aland critical edition used by modern biblical scholars. To utilize those pages, one must first install the free electronic Greek font from Scholars Press on one's computer. Yet, knowledge of Greek is not required for most of the pages of this electronic text, since the thread on which it is constructed is an English version of the gospels. 

The English translation used for the sample synopsis is the Revised Standard Version, coded in machine readable format by Robert A. Kraft of the University of Pennsylvania & posted in a searchable SGML edition by the Electronic Text Center of the University of Virginia. Many newer versions are in circulation, but the RSV's literal translation of the Greek, unmodified for political correctness, still makes it one of the best versions for comparing parallel passages in English. The author of this site is responsible for arranging the gospel texts in parallel tables with matched columns, a format learned as editorial assistant to Robert W. Funk in producing New Gospel Parallels (Sonoma CA: Polebridge Press, 1990).

Caution! Remember that any English biblical text is only a translation. Judgments based on word for word comparisons of the gospels are ultimately valid only if they are made from the Greek text, taking into consideration all the ms. variants.   As in any translation, the English equivalents here cannot represent the form & connotations of every Greek word exactly. Sometimes different forms of a Greek verb in 2 versions of the same passage are represented by the same English verb. The RSV, like most other translations, regularly renders Mark's chaotic alternation of tenses as simple past tenses. Occasionally, therefore, this author has taken the liberty of "correcting" the RSV wording by presenting a more literal English rendering of the Greek.  Yet, the RSV committee's decision not to polish the biblical authors' style to make it read smoother is the factor that makes this version good for introducing an audience, unequipped to handle Greek, to careful comparison of parallel passages in the gospels.  

It is in this sense only that this text is a "primer." Otherwise, it is a gateway to advanced biblical research. It is designed to go beyond the usual superficial discussion of the synoptic problem found in most introductions to the NT by giving students hands on experience in confronting the range of factors that need to be taken into consideration in accounting for the literary relationship of the first three gospels.

Hypertext links & true color computer processing permit instructional aids that are either impossible or cost-prohibitive in print media. Color-coding enables the relationship of passages to be compared at a glance. Electronic links between related material enable the student to see what the experienced scholar sees rather than just accept his word for it.

The Hyper-Glossary provides mini-essays on important topics presupposed by current gospel research, so the neophyte need not feel like an outsider to the arguments of biblical experts. These essays form a web of interrelated topics designed to put the elements of gospel scholarship into historical perspective.

These pages form a self-contained text. The author originally hoped to provide most information through links to established websites, but soon found that electronic publishing is too ephemeral to rely on information provided by other servers. To further the cause of research in cyberspace, however, links to a number of related websites are included at the end of glossary essays. More will be provided as they are found.

Reviews: Constructive criticism of this project & leads to additional resources on the internet are greatly appreciated.



 Reviews Gospel Outlines
 Manuscript Evidence  1  Jesus' Kin
Traditional Opinions  2  The Sower
 3  Secret of the Kingdom
 4  The Sower as Allegory
  5   The Lamp
Modern Hypotheses  6  The Measure
  Weisse (Two Source)
  Griesbach (Two Gospel)
 7  The Harvest
 8  Mustard Seed & Leaven
 9  The Harvest as Allegory
 A Gospel Hyper-Glossary   10    The Treasure, Pearl & Net
  Other On-line Resources 11  The Trained Scribe

Faith is no excuse for ignorance!
Adherence to any tradition in disregard for textual evidence is sheer superstition.

Other Viewpoints on the Synoptic Gospels

One of the chief advantages of the internet is that it allows for an interactive exchange of views. These WebPages are devoted to objective analysis of the gospel texts. They present verifiable information. But they do not pretend to represent a neutral position in the scholarly debate on the synoptic problem. The author's observations tend to support the conclusions of the Two Source hypothesis, the majority position for over a century among scholars trained in biblical criticism. Valid observations & cogent arguments are still presented, however, by critics of the Two Source hypothesis. Worthy websites which (sometimes) favor alternate hypotheses include the following:

Stephen C. Carlson presents capsule overviews of all major hypotheses & proponents, basic tools for analysis & a sample color-coded Greek parallel synopsis.

Mark Goodacre provides lucid information on the alternative to the Q hypothesis first proposed by A. M. Farrer.

Thomas R. W. Longstaff introduces the research of the team of American scholars who favor J. J. Griesbach's theory of the relationship of the synoptic gospels.

Paper by William R. Farmer, leading champion of the Griesbach source theory, presented to the international Society for New Testament Studies in August 1998.

Brian E. Wilson illustrates a solution to the synoptic problem -- based on the testimony of Papias -- presented at the 1999 meeting of the International Society of Biblical Literature. 

Ron Price's Three Source Theory addresses questions about the content of Q by proposing that Luke used both the synoptic sayings source & Matthew in composing his own gospel.

Marilyn Mellowes surveys the views of current leading scholars regarding the formation of the gospels for PBS Frontline.

Dennis Bratcher offers a balanced introduction to gospel research that is sensitive to questions that modern theories of literary relationship raise regarding traditional views of the biblical text (posted by the Christian Research Institute).

Any who wish to pursue gospel scholarship further are urged to explore the electronic resources accessed through the premiere internet gateways to New Testament scholarship: Mark Goodacre's New Testament Gateway & Torrey Seland's Resource Pages for Biblical Studies.


Synoptic-L is the international Email list for discussion of the Synoptic Problem. In order to subscribe, send an Email to with the message

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in its body. For further details, visit the Synoptic-L Web Site.

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last revised 18 January 2006



Copyright 1997- 2004 by Mahlon H Smith 
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